Releasing Our Dead Branches
How yoga can help you let go.
In my home, I have a favorite window. It’s big, bright, and overlooks a lush green forest. I see and hear birds and notice how the sunlight hits the trees throughout the day—shaded in the morning and slowly moving to a sunset later in the day. As I gazed out this window just the other day, I noticed one of the biggest trees had a dead branch in it. The branch wasn’t attached to the tree, rather, fell from above and became caught on a healthy living branch, hanging and brown.
As I stared at the tree and branch, I thought about what nature was sharing with me. Why do we hold on to parts of ourselves that are ready to be let go of, or that are no longer serving us? Why can’t we shake our own dead branches loose so that our healthy branches can grow without the extra weight and work? Easier said than done for most—even for a strong and majestic tree.
The part of yoga that most casually write off as a stress reducing side benefit, actually IS the practice itself and the goal. I’ll cite Sri Swami Satchidananda’s translation of The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali sutra 1.2 here (though know there are many other sources one could look to). Yoga is “the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff.” If you gain mastery over the functions of your own mind, you have practiced and reached the goal of yoga. Again, easier said than done. We know the mind is a powerful thing—and a master manipulator. Have you ever spiraled into a story about yourself that is just not true? Maybe a story about what you think others are thinking or their intentions? While the mind is complex and intelligent, yoga asks us to practice knowing it. And by knowing it and learning more about ourselves, we learn how to hack our own mind, learning when and how to let go of our "dead branches."
You might be thinking but wait! I thought enlightenment was the goal of yoga? It is…kind of. I think the word enlightenment is misleading. Is it realistic to think that we can walk around all knowing and at peace 100% of the time once we achieve this lofty goal? Probably not. Perhaps more accurately, we can replace enlightenment with bliss or peace. The more we practice yoga—knowing ourselves and learning to hack our “mind-stuff”—the greater our ability to access a place of bliss and peace, both in quantity and quality. The Eight Limbs of Yoga, which include our breathwork (pranayama), mediation (dhyana), and physical (asana) practice so often seen in yoga classes, are part of the blueprint for practicing the goal of yoga.
Knowing yourself better—mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually—is a powerful way to release some of those dead branches; things that you might be holding on to that truly aren’t helping you on your way to living a peaceful life. This is not something that happens overnight, in a month, in a year, but rather, a lifetime. If you’re just getting started with yoga, come into it with an open mind and heart knowing that it is not only a physical practice to gain flexibility. Knowing yourself can be scary at times. We might not like what we see when we go deeper. This is okay. Allow yourself the grace to travel through it. You deserve that.
And if you’re already on this journey, keep going. Keep practicing. Keep learning. Keep knowing yourself. Just like trees, our roots run deep, and our branches stretch out. We make the world more beautiful because we are in it.